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Part 2

For Part 1 click HERE

It emerged that Plunkett (Left), a tough, brave and experienced but perhaps impetuous soldier, had disobeyed Cobbe’s orders.  On reaching Olivey he formed a square with the 2nd Sikhs in the front face and advanced over 6 kilometres through the bush.  On reaching an open space partly surrounded by thick bush he halted, perhaps hoping to teach the Dervishes a lesson.  After about 5 minutes he was attacked from the bush by the leading elements of up to 8,000 spearmen and horsemen led by the Mullah.  At first horsemen assaulted the front and flanks of the square.  After repulsing the first attack Plunkett ordered the square to advance into the centre of the open space.  This advance left wounded Askari behind on the ground, but this saved the lives of some of them who managed to escape later as the fighting moved away from them.  Then spearmen arrived and attacked all sides of the square.  The Dervishes cried “Allah! Allah!” whilst their womenfolk ululated shrilly in the background. 

Horsemen fired from their saddles into the British troops who returned volley fire into the seething mass of attackers.  However the solid rifle bullets of the Sikhs were not knocking down the most fanatical of the Dervishes, who kept charging forward although wounded.  At one stage spearmen broke through the face of the square but the Sikhs reformed and killed or drove back the attackers.  The British officers were targeted and brought down first.  Plunkett was wounded early in the action by a spear thrust but stayed on his feet.   The two machine guns, each in a corner of the square, cut swathes through the Dervishes but began to run out of ammunition.  As men dropped ranks had to be tightened as there were no supporting troops, but even so Dervishes repeatedly broke into the square before being shot or bayoneted.  Cobbe’s orders had been that this was a short recovery patrol and reserve ammunition had not been taken.  Eventually when the ammunition was expended a horde of spearmen broke into the square.  Prominent amongst these attackers were the ferocious men of the Adonis tribe.  Plunkett and Johnston-Stewart ordered those sepoys and Askari still standing to bayonet-charge their way back to Cobbe’s position.  A Dervish then shot Plunkett through the head.

As the remains of the square disintegrated the attackers swarmed over the retreating British soldiers, spearing and hacking them to death.  No British or Indians survived, only 47 Yao and Atonga Askari from British Central Africa made it back to Cobbe’s zareba, and 42 of these men were wounded.  No. A 759 Private Mandelumba, 2 KAR, was later awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal with the citation:

This man carried into the zareba, a distance of 6 miles from the action at Gumburu on 17th April, 1903, No. 885 Private Gomani, of the same battalion, who was wounded in the arm.

British personnel killed at Gumburu were: 

From 2 KAR: Major and Local Lieutenant Colonel Arthur William Valentine Plunkett (Manchester Regiment), Captain James Johnstone-Stewart (Left) (Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders), Captain Herbert Edward Olivey (Suffolk Regiment), Captain Herbert Humphrey de Bohun Morris (Page bottom Left) (East Kent Regiment), Captain Lachlan M’Kinnon (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment), Lieutenant Joseph Aloysius Gaynor (2nd Dragoon Guards), Lieutenant Ernest William Bell (Page Botton Right) (Suffolk Regiment).

From 2nd Sikhs: Captain Herbert Charles Vesey.

From the Indian Medical Service: Lieutenant Francis Wheler Sime.

From the KRRC: Riflemen No. 2176 Laurence Ensor and No. 1589 John Barrow.

Indian personnel killed were: Havildar Major Dewan Singh, 2 KAR and 36th Sikhs; No. 153 Lance-Havildar Khajan Singh, 1 KAR and 3rd Peshawar Battery; 2 un-named officers and 46 sepoys from 2nd Sikhs; one Hospital Assistant from 5 KAR.

The African dead were 117 Askari from 2 KAR; 2 Askari and one Maxim Gun Carrier from 1 KAR; 13 Somali transport drivers and followers.

Dervish losses were never known but mounds of dead lay around the site of the square.  One estimate given by Dervish prisoners later was that around 1,000 men were killed and many more were badly wounded.

Above: Major Gough, Sergeant Gibb and the Sikhs at Daratoleh.

Gough’s move to Danot

Manning now ordered Cobbe to withdraw to Galadi.  But also out in the field was Brevet Major J.E. Gough (Rifle Brigade and 2 KAR) who Manning had ordered to march with a mobile column from Bohotle 120 kilometres south-westwards to Danot.  Gough’s mission was to collect information and Dervish stock, and to act as a block in case the Mullah’s men moved in his direction.  

On 17th April Gough halted 24 kilometres short of Danot as his mounts were “done up”.  A 6 KAR patrol of mounted infantrymen reconnoitred Danot water hole, chased away 15 Dervishes and captured 9 ponies.  On his return the patrol commander reported that there was only sufficient water at Danot for Gough’s column for three days.  Gough then sent back his infantry, 2 KAR and the BCA Sikhs, to Bohotle.  Gough then led his mounted troops to occupy Danot waterhole.  At this stage he had with him 56 men of the Bikaner Camel Corps and 57 mounted infantry and 51 camelry of 6 KAR.  

At Danot Gough found sufficient water and so sent a message to the infantry ordering that now 100 Askari of 2 KAR, 50 Sikhs of the BCA contingent, 2 maxims, reserve ammunition, 100 water tins and all available rations be turned around and sent to Danot.  A strong Zareba was built at Danot to cover the waterhole, which despite its thick covering of green slime stayed full after the men and animals had watered.  

On 18th April Gough sent patrols out of Danot.  A 6 KAR mounted infantry patrol had a contact resulting in the killing of 18 Dervish spearmen and the capture of two prisoners and 300 camels.  The prisoners were wearing pieces of British equipment and they talked of a recent large battle at Gumburu, but Gough believed that the equipment came from a battle during the Second Expedition at Erigo.  One of the prisoners later died of wounds and the other was shot through the head whilst trying to escape from the zareba. 

The fight at Daratoleh

At 0430 hours on 22nd April Gough moved out of the zareba to look for the enemy.  He took:


·        2 officers and 30 Askari from 2 KAR.

·        4 officers and 104 camelry and mounted infantry from 6 KAR.

·        1 officer and 12 BCA Sikhs mounted on ponies.

·        2 officers and 45 rifles of the Bikaner Camel Corps. As the Indian camel saddles were double ones the 2 KAR Askari rode behind the sowars of the Bikaner Camel Corps.

Each man carried 250 rounds of ammunition.The remainder of the column remained to hold the zareba at Danot under Captain F.B. Young (Cheshire Regiment and 2 KAR).

  The order of march was 6 KAR camelry riding at the point followed by the mounted BCA Sikhs; then came a loose square as shown in the first sketch; followed by two groups of 6 KAR mounted infantrymen as rearguard.  By 0730 hours the advance guard was skirmishing.  At 1020 hours a large enemy force was encountered to the front.  Gough at once dismounted his troops in flat open ground surrounded by clumps of tall bush and long grass, and formed a square as shown in the second sketch.  Camels and ponies were roped down in the centre.

The British waited and tension rose.  Suddenly an outburst of enemy rifle fire from the thorn bushes and grass opened the battle.  An estimated 300 Dervish riflemen and 500 spearmen moved against the square.  The British maintained fire discipline using volley fire against enemy rushes. The one Maxim gun was handled by Armourer-Sergeant Allan Gibb, Army Ordnance Corps and attached to 2 KAR.  He had already been cited for coolness and bravery in battle during the Second Expedition.  Gibb and his gun team regularly moved the Maxim and ammunition to whichever face of the square needed support, cutting down groups of attackers.  The effective volley-fire of the riflemen kept the enemy at a distance of 20 metres from the square and bayonets did not have to be used.  However after four hours of fighting several officers and men were down and ammunition was running low. Captain Godfrey was one of the dead.  Gough issued a warning order for a fighting withdrawal.

Above: Daratoleh battle square

The withdrawal from Daratoleh

The British wounded and dead were secured onto camels, except for three 6 KAR corpses that were left because their Somali colleagues saw no need to move them.  To clear the ground Gough ordered the front and left faces to bayonet charge 100 metres forward.  This was achieved successfully by the 2 KAR and Bikaner Camel Corps detachments under Captains R.E.L. Townsend and Walker.  The war correspondent of the illustrated weekly Graphic newspaper joined in the Bikaner’s charge, replacing the wounded Captain Hughes.  The returning troops brought in 9 rifles, 3 of which were identified as 2 KAR weapons from Cobbe’s column.   

The withdrawal now began, the rear face withdrawing first, followed by the camels and ponies, and then the other three faces pulled back to join the rear face.  This slow but sure method of using an ‘elastic square’ continued through the heat of the afternoon.  As the withdrawal progressed the 6 KAR camelry troops, the BCA Sikhs and and 2 KAR Askari again made successful bayonet charges to push the enemy back.  By 1500 hours enemy pressure was increasing as more Dervishes arrived to attack the withdrawal.  Gough sent four 6 KAR horsemen back to Danot with an order for ammunition to be sent forward.   

The ammunition detail and escort arrived at 1730 hours under the command of Captain P.C.R. Barclay (Indian Staff Corps and 1 KAR), allowing the mens’ pouches to be re-filled with rounds.  Gough now ordered the 6 KAR mounted infantry to mount and clear the bush adjacent to the front and side faces, which they did successfully under Captains Dickinson and Howard.  Whilst doing this some of the 6 KAR soldiers observed Dervishes wearing the black fez of 2 KAR which could only have obtained during action against Cobbe’s column.   The ‘elastic square’ now resumed its progress back to Danot, arriving there at 0115 hours.    

A display of great gallantry

During the initial stages of the withdrawal Gough’s staff officer, Captain C.M Bruce (left) (Royal Field Artillery), was shot from 20 metres range whilst with the rearguard.  He fell and was unable to move.  The enemy followed up closely hoping to seize Bruce’s body and disfigure it. 

The rearguard withdrew as ordered but Captain Walker and the column Intelligence Officer Captain G.M. Rolland (1st Bombay Grenadiers), two KAR Askari, one 6 KAR camel man and one BCA Sikh stood fast around Bruce, and held the attackers off.  Rolland ran back to the disappearing square and returned with Gough, a camel and supporting troops. 

The men around Bruce had to fight fiercely, the Sikh was wounded and Bruce also was wounded again.  Bruce, now dying, was loaded onto the camel and the party fought its way back into the square.

Later the following awards were made.

The Victoria Cross (two recipients initially, followed later by a third):

Captain George Murray Rolland.
Whilst retiring from Daratoleh, Somaliland, he (together with Captain Walker and 4 men) was in the rearguard under heavy fire from the pursuing enemy when Captain Bruce was shot through the body.  He ran 500 yards to fetch help whilst the other men fired ceaselessly to keep the enemy in check.  Returning with Major Gough, he helped to lift Captain Bruce onto a camel.  The enemy remained in close pusuit for a further three hours, during which time Captain Bruce died.  

Captain William George Walker.
Whilst retiring from Daratoleh, Somaliland, he (together with Captain Rolland and four men) was in the rearguard under heavy fire from the pusuing enemy when Captain Bruce was shot through the body.  Whilst Rolland ran to fetch help, he kept up a desperate fire to keep the enemy at bay.  When Rolland returned with Major Gough, he helped to lift Captain Bruce onto a camel.  The captain died soon afterwards.  

Brevet Major John Edmund Gough
During the action at Daratoleh, on 22nd April last, Major Gough assisted Captains Walker and Rolland in carrying back the late Captain Bruce (who had been mortally wounded) and prevented that officer from falling into the hands of the enemy. Captains Walker and Rolland have already been awarded the Victoria Cross for their gallantry on this occasion, but Major Gough (who was in command of the column) made no mention of his own conduct, which has only recently been brought to notice.

Above: Rescue of Captain Bruce

Distinguished Conduct Medal

66 Sergeant Ndermani, 2 KAR.
87 Corporal Surmoni, 2 KAR.
Sowar Umar Ismail, 6 KAR Camel Corps.

Indian Order of Merit

BCA No. 126/Regimental No. 2376 Lance-Naik Maieya Singh, 24th Baluchistan Regiment.

Back at Danot Gough’s column re-grouped.  The British and Askari dead were buried and the Sikh dead were cremated.  The casualty list was 15 men killed and 29 wounded.  Animal casualties were 19 riding camels killed and 13 wounded, and 9 ponies killed and 9 wounded.  Gough estimated that 150 Dervishes were killed and many more must have been wounded.

The British dead were Captains Charles Godfrey DSO and Charles Maurice Dundas Bruce.  The wounded were the officer commanding 6 KAR Major A.G. Sharp (Leinster Regiment), Major H.B. Rowlands (Suffolk Regiment and 2 KAR), Captain E.M. Hughes (14th Lancers and the Bikaner Camel Corps), and Captain R.E.L. Townsend (Worcestershire Regiment and 2 KAR).  Major Rowlands subsequently died of his wounds at Bohotle.  

Gough wrote in his after-action report:

I cannot speak too highly of the behaviour of all ranks.  It could not have been better, the Somalis (6 KAR) surprising everyone by their steadiness and dash, 2 KAR having both officers wounded and losing 11 men killed and wounded out of 30, and yet full of dash and fight.  

The Abyssinian sector

As the news of the Gumburu disaster spread London ordered Manning to concentrate his mobile columns at defended locations, and to maintain readiness for future operations.  Gough arrived at Bohotle on 28th April.  Manning correctly believed that the Dervish flocks were still in the Walwal - Wardair area and he sent a message to the Abyssinians urging them to attack Wardair.  However the Abyssinian force was composed of tribal groups under their own chiefs and was not organised as an army.  The force reached Mekunna on the Webi Shebelli river, 275 kilometres south-south-west of Gumburu, on 17th April but stayed near the river as it had no water-carrying equipment for a desert crossing.

In the event it was late May before Manning’s message reached his chief liaison officer with the Abyssinians, Colonel A.N. Rochfort CB (Royal Artillery).  Despite not being self-sufficient in necessary equipment the Abyssinians did successfully fight engagements against Dervish forces.  Rochfort recorded one battle where;

. . . we were attacked by 1,100 tribesmen on three sides. . . .The attack came as a surprise and severe hand-to-hand fighting ensued, lasting 45 minutes, when the tribesmen were beaten off and many killed in the water while trying to cross the river. . . .What direction there was during the action was carried out by the various chiefs.  There was a great deal of firing and considerable noise and confusion, but individually the men rushed into the fight in the keenest possible way. . . .They are too excitable to be good shots and prefer their swords to their rifles. . . .It was altogether a very remarkable sight.  The Abyssinians pursued all day.  The casualties are reported as follows:-

Abyssinians: killed 21; wounded 10.
Dervishes: killed 301; wounded 2.
I think the Dervish loss is much exaggerated.
Doctor Martin is doing all that is possible for the wounded.

(The other British liaison officers with Rochester were Captain and Local Major R.P. Cobbold, Reserve of Officers, and Dr. C. Martin of the Burmah Uncovenanted Medical Service.)  

During late May an Abyssinian detachment killed around 1,000 Dervish spearmen near Jeyd.  Whilst Manning had hoped for more from his allies the Abyssinians had acted as an effective block to any large-scale Dervish movement to the south.   

The Mullah’s escape

Manning still believed that he held the upper hand because he was holding and controlling all the water holes to the east of Wardair where the Mullah’s followers’ flocks and herds were concentrated.  He believed that once he could find the Dervish herds moving then he could force a fight on his terms.  The Mullah’s men would either have to fight or submit to the British to protect their animals and their nomadic existence.   

But the Dervishes knew the ground and the climatic conditions better than Manning did and he was out-manouevred.  The rains that fell in May and June created pools and water holes that the British could not control.  The Mullah moved his tribes eastwards towards the Nogal valley.  On 14th June a 6 KAR mounted reconnaissance patrol found the Dervishes crossing Manning’s defended line 24 kilometres from Damot.  The Mullah’s men were picqueting all the recently-formed pools and water holes that he needed and 5,000 Dervish horsemen were covering the movement of the herds.   

The officer commanding the Berbera – Bohotle Lines of Communication, Lieutenant Colonel J.C. Swann (Indian Army), had 1,132 all ranks and 8 Maxim guns at Bohotle and he considered that force insufficient to both hold Bohotle and immediately confront the Dervishes.  By the time Manning had moved more men to Bohotle on 26th June there were only meagre pickings from the tail-end of the Dervish migration in the area.  British patrols seized 400 camels and 2,000 sheep and goats.  The Mullah and his followers had moved into the Nogal region. London was not impressed and the Third Expedition was terminated.  

Conclusion

The planning and preparation performed by the British staff officers, the building of roads by Indian Sappers and Pioneers, the operation of a port in extremely difficult conditions at Obbia, the construction of a long telegraph line by Royal Engineers and the holding of a long series of defended posts had all been in vain.  Manning had not concentrated sufficient force in the actions that were fought and the Dervish army, whilst doubtless hurt, was not destroyed.  The amount of stock taken was much less than in the Second Expedition when Swayne’s Somali troops excelled at bringing herds in, knowing that they were going to share in the plunder.  

Manning’s lack of confidence in the Somalis as fighters was unfortunate, as Gough’s comments after Daratoleh showed.  London now planned a much larger Fourth Expedition, this time to be commanded by a General who believed that the use of a greater number of Indian Army troops was the answer to Somaliland’s military challenges.  

A campaign bar to the African General Service medal was not issued until after the conclusion of the Fourth Campaign.   

Captain and Brevet Major J.E. Gough VC, the Rifle Brigade (the Prince Consort’s Own) was appointed to the Brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  

Armourer-Sergeant Allan Gibb, Army Ordnance Corps and attached to 2 KAR, later received a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during the Second Expedition. 

References:

Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India Volume VI, Expeditions Overseas, reprinted by The Naval & Military Press Ltd.
The Official History Of The Operations In Somaliland 1901-04, reprinted by The Naval & Military Press Ltd.
Hamilton, Angus, Somaliland, 1911, Hutchinson and Co., London.
Hayward, Birch and Bishop, British Battles and Medals, 2006, Spink, London.
Headlam, Major General Sir John, The History of the Royal Artillery from the Indian Mutiny to the Great War, 1937, Royal Artillery Institution.
Jardine, Douglas, The Mad Mullah of Somaliland, 1923, Herbert Jenkins Ltd., London.
Magor, R. B., African General Service Medals, The Naval and Military Press, revision of 1993 edition.
Moyse-Bartlett, Lt. Col. H.,  The King’s African Rifles, reprinted by The Naval & Military Press Ltd.
Page, Malcolm,  KAR - A history of the King’s African Rifles, 1998, Leo Cooper, London.
The London Gazette
The Graphic..
The VC & DSO Book Volume II, The Naval

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